Joe Osborn, the bassist in the famed Wrecking Crew, the group of studio musicians who performed on tracks like Simon & Garfunkel’s “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and the Mamas & the Papas’ “California Dreamin’,” has died at the age of 81.
Denny Tedesco, the director of the 2008 documentary The Wrecking Crew, confirmed to Rolling Stone that Osborn died December 14th following a long battle with pancreatic cancer.
The Louisiana-born Osborn entered the music business as a member of Ricky Nelson’s backing band and appeared on the pop singer’s 1961 hit “Travelin’ Man” before the bassist moved to Los Angeles in 1964; soon after, Lou Adler and Bones Howe recruited to join their iteration of the Wrecking Crew, a team of elite session musicians often called upon by the Beach Boys, Phil Spector, the Monkees and more.
As a member of the Wrecking Crew, Osborn contributed to hit singles like the Fifth Dimension’s “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” Tommy Roe’s “Dizzy,” Grass Roots’ “Midnight Confessions,” the Association’s “Windy,” Richard Harris’ “MacArthur Park,” Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Only Living Boy in New York” and “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” America’s “Ventura Highway” and the Carpenters’ “Close to You.”
Osborn often performed alongside fellow Wrecking Crew members drummer Hal Blaine and keyboardist Larry Knechtel; that trio played on the original Los Angeles cast recording of Rocky Horror Picture Show in 1974 and the Partridge Family’s hit “I Think I Love You.”
After a decade-long association with the Wrecking Crew, Osborn moved from Los Angeles to Nashville, where he soon became one of country music’s most in-demand session musicians, performing on Merle Haggard, Reba McEntire, Chet Atkins and Kenny Rogers, Variety reports. The Wrecking Crew stated that Osborn appeared on 53 Number One country hits.
Osborn also played on both Neil Young’s 1978 album Comes a Time and 1985’s Old Ways, both partially recorded in Nashville, as well as Billy Joel’s Cold Spring Harbor, Bob Dylan’s Self Portrait, the Beach Boys’ Sunflower and Paul Simon’s self-titled solo album.
“When I started this documentary, it was very difficult to get to all the players around the country. But there was no way I was not going to make the trip out to meet Joe,” Tedesco wrote on The Wrecking Crew film’s Facebook page.
“He made sure he found time for me to do that interview which was so important to the history of the Wrecking Crew. Over the years, he was always there when we needed him for a concert or screening. Even though he was a quiet man, I could see the sparkle in his eyes when he saw the love of his fans. I called him a gentle bear. He made his impact in Rock and Roll and Country. First called session bass player in two cities; Los Angeles and Nashville. My favorite line from Joe. He was asked why he kept the same strings on his bass for 17 years. His answer, ‘No one told me I was supposed to change them.’ He will truly be missed but not forgotten.”